by Brendan Mackey, Ph.D.
The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia has
a long standing commitment to research and teaching in the fields
of sustainable development and environmental studies. This commitment
can be traced back to the creation of the Human Ecology Program
in the late seventies by Professor Steven Boyden, at that time
the Research Fellow in the John Curtin School of Medical Research.
The Human Ecology program continues to this day under the guidance
of David Dumeresq. Professor Boyden, following his recent retirement,
has formed an organization called Nature and Society Forum which
works to promote the human ecology perspective through the wider
community. This organization is based on campus and is supported
by the ANU.
ANU also established the Center for Resource and Environmental
Studies (CRES) within the Institute of Advanced Studies in the
late 1970's. CRES conducts research and post-graduate education
that interprets biophysical, socio-cultural, and economic theory
and methodologies. CRES also houses the ANU's Ecological Economics
Program. Six years ago, CRES together with the Departments of
Geography, Forestry, Geology, and Human Ecology Program, formed
the School of Resource Management and Environmental Science, with
the objective of fostering integrated and multidisciplinary solutions
to environmental problems.
Two other recent initiatives are worth noting: First, a consortium
of around fifty academics have created a Global Change Federation
to promote the study of human/environmental interactions. Second,
a virtual Center for Integrated Catchment Management has been
formed to consolidate the many research activities being undertaken
in this critical field. The ANU has only recently become informed
about the Talloires Declaration and the opportunity to join ULSF.
A proposal for the ANU to become a signatory is currently being
circulated, and will be put to the Vice Chancellor as a collegiate
initiative. Within the context of this long-term and long-standing
commitment to sustainable development and environmental studies,
the ANU is making a significant contribution to the Earth Charter
The Earth Charter
The proposal to create an Earth Charter can be traced back to
Our Common Future, the report issued in 1987 by the United Nations
World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). In its
report the Commission recommended that the United Nations undertake
"to consolidate and extend relevant legal principles in a
new charter to guide state behavior in the transition to sustainable
development." The proposed new charter should serve as "a
universal declaration" that sets forth "new norms for
state and interstate behavior needed to maintain livelihoods and
life on our shared planet." The WCED also proposed that the
new Charter "be subsequently expanded into a convention setting
out the sovereign rights and reciprocal responsibilities of all
states on environmental protection and sustainable development."
At the first meeting of the United Nations Preparatory Committee
for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(UNCED)- at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro- the UNCED Secretariat
proposed taking up the challenge of creating an Earth Charter.
The proposal attracted much support and several draft Earth Charters
were prepared and widely circulated. However, the time was not
right for intergovernmental agreement on an Earth Charter. In
its place the Earth Summit approved the "Rio Declaration
on Environment and Development." The Rio Declaration falls
short of the aspirations many people had for the Earth Charter,
and it is distinctly anthropocentric. At the conclusion of the
Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, the UNCED Secretary General, called
for ongoing international efforts to reach an agreement on an
A new Earth Charter initiative was started in 1994 through the
collaborative efforts of Maurice Strong and former Soviet leader
Mikhail Gorbachev. Following the first international workshop
on the Earth Charter in May 1995, an Earth Charter Management
Committee, chaired by Strong, was established to oversee the project.
During the past two years, an Earth Charter consultation has been
carried out in connection with the "Rio Plus Five" review
organized by the Cost Rica-based Earth Council, set up after the
Earth Summit to monitor progress towards sustainable development.
Early in 1997, an Earth Charter Commission was formed to oversee
the consultation process. This body includes representatives from
the major regions of the world and different sectors of society.
The Commission issued a Benchmark Draft Earth Charter in March
1997 at the conclusion of the Rio + 5 Forum in Rio de Janeiro.
The Forum was organized by the Earth Council as part of its independent
Rio + 5 review, and it brought together more than 500 representatives
from civil society and national councils of sustainable development.
The Benchmark Draft reflects the many and diverse contributions
received through the consultation process and from the Rio + 5
Forum. The Commission has extended the consultation process and
the Benchmark Draft is being circulated widely as a document in
Efforts will be made to enlist wide support for the document
and its principles in civil society, religious communities, and
national councils of sustainable development. It is hoped that
many organizations will conduct their own workshops on the Benchmark
Draft and report their findings and recommendations to the Earth
Council. At the end of the consultation period, a final version
of the Earth Charter will be prepared. With a demonstration of
wide popular support, it is hoped that the Earth Charter will
be endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in the year
2000. [This history in excerpted from a longer paper prepared
by Dr. Steven Rockefeller (Middlebury College, USA) for the Rio
+ 5 Forum in March 1997.]
The EC Consultation Process in Australia
The Australian Steering Committee for the Earth Charter, chaired
by Dr. Brendan Mackey is planning a program of consultations with
various organizations and communities, culminating in a National
Earth Charter Forum. The ANU is providing secretarial support
to the Steering Committee and will be organizing the National
The overall aim of the program is to involve a very broad cross
section of the Australian community in a dialogue about the Earth
Charter. The National Forum in May will officially launch the
program. National representatives of business, industry, government
and NGO organizations and communities will be invited to attend.
The outcome of the National Forum will be commitments by these
various sectors to engage their constituents in Earth Charter
consultations. These groups will then reconvene latter in the
year to help develop an Australian position, or positions, on
the Charter. The objectives of the program are to educate people
about the Charter and its role in promoting sustainable development,
and gain feedback on its form and content as input to the formal
drafting process. In addition, a media strategy is being planned
to help involve the general public, that is, the unorganized component
of civil society, in this dialogue.
One of the major components of the Australian Earth Charter program
will be the Youth Consultation. A task force has been formed at
the ANU to design and implement the youth consultation activities.
These will be aimed at both primary and high schools across the
country. Three main activities are planned to maximize creative
input from students about the Earth Charter:
- a school-based project where students are asked to produce
their own vision of an Earth Charter using any of a wide range
- a "web-based" virtual forum, to facilitate input
from geographically remote schools.
- a national youth drafting team will be selected to help collate
and synthesize the various materials these activities generate.
This team will then participate in the planned National Earth
We are collaborating with colleagues in various agencies with
experience in interacting with school children about the environment.
For example, the Murray-Darlign Basin Commission has a primary
school program called 'Special Forever' which focuses children
to think about their local environment. We will be jointly developing
curriculum material for next year using the Earth Charter theme
to help children make the link between their local and global
The Earth Charter is a challenging concept for any University
to come to terms with, as it is intrinsically multi-disciplinary
in nature, and perhaps will require a new transdisciplinary approach
to be fully resolved. The Charter will need to contain principles
from the widest spectrum of human thought and enterprise, including
the scientific knowledge base, as well as wisdom and insights
gained from traditional and religious philosophies. This makes
the Charter an invaluable tool in helping to catalyze the kind
of integrated thinking needed to promote sustainable development
and environmental protection. We hope that our activities will
stimulate other universities to take a leadership role in establishing
Earth Charter dialogues within their regions or countries. The
Earth Charter has the potential to be a landmark document in bringing
about the fundamental changes needed to redirect the societies
of the world towards sustainable living. It is worthy of the support
of universities everywhere.
NOTE: Please visit www.earthcharterusa.org
to view the final Earth Charter document, approved March 2000.
THE EARTH CHARTER
Benchmark Draft, 18 March 1997
The Earth Charter Earth is our home and home to all living beings.
Earth itself is alive. We are part of an evolving universe. Human
beings are members of an interdependent community of life with
a magnificent diversity of life forms and cultures. We are humbled
before the beauty of Earth and share a reverence for life and
the sources of our being. We give thanks for the heritage that
we have received from past generations and embrace our responsibilities
to present and future generations.
The Earth Community stands at a defining moment. The biosphere
is governed by laws that we ignore at our own peril. Human beings
have acquired the ability to radically alter the environment and
evolutionary processes. Lack of foresight and misuse of knowledge
and power threaten the fabric of life and the foundations of local
and global security. There is great violence, poverty, and suffering
in our world. A fundamental change of course is needed.
The choice is before us: to care for Earth or to participate
in the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. We
must reinvent industrial?technological civilization, finding new
ways to balance self and community, having and being, diversity
and unity, short?term and long?term, using and nurturing.
In the midst of all our diversity, we are one humanity and one
Earth family with a shared destiny. The challenges before us require
an inclusive ethical vision. Partnerships must be forged and cooperation
fostered at local, bioregional, national, and international levels.
In solidarity with one another and the community of life, we the
peoples of the world commit ourselves to action guided by the
following interrelated principles:
- Respect Earth and all life. Earth, each life form, and all
living beings possess intrinsic value and warrant respect independently
of their utilitarian value to humanity.
- Care for Earth, protecting and restoring the diversity, integrity,
and beauty of the planet's ecosystems. Where there is risk of
irreversible or serious damage to the environment, precautionary
action must be taken to prevent harm.
- Live sustainably, promoting and adopting modes of consumption,
production, and reproduction that respect and safeguard human
rights and the regenerative capacities of Earth.
- Establish justice, and defend without discrimination the right
of all people to life, liberty, and security of person within
an environment adequate for human health and spiritual well?being.
People have a right to potable water, clean air, uncontaminated
soil, and food security.
- Share equitably the benefits of natural resource use and a
healthy environment among the nations, between rich and poor,
between males and females, between present and future generations,
and internalize all environmental, social, and economic costs.
- Promote social development and financial systems that create
and maintain sustainable livelihoods, eradicate poverty, and
strengthen local communities.
- Practice non?violence, recognizing that peace is the wholeness
created by harmonious and balanced relationships with oneself,
other persons, other life forms, and Earth.
- Strengthen processes that empower people to participate effectively
in decision?making and ensure transparency and accountability
in governance and administration in all sectors of society.
- Reaffirm that Indigenous and Tribal Peoples have a vital role
in the care and protection of Mother Earth. They have the right
to retain their spirituality, knowledge, lands, territories,
- Affirm that gender equality is a prerequisite for sustainable
- Secure the right to sexual and reproductive health, with special
concern for women and girls.
- Promote the participation of youth as accountable agents of
change for local, bioregional, and global sustainability.
- Advance and put to use scientific and other types of knowledge
and technologies that promote sustainable living and protect
- Ensure that people throughout their lives have opportunities
to acquire the knowledge, values, and practical skills needed
to build sustainable communities.
- Treat all creatures with compassion and protect them from
cruelty and wanton destruction.
- Do not do to the environment of others what you do not want
done to your environment.
- Protect and restore places of outstanding ecological, cultural,
aesthetic, spiritual, and scientific significance.
- Cultivate and act with a sense of shared responsibility for
the well?being of the Earth Community. Every person, institution,
and government has a duty to advance the indivisible goals of
justice for all, sustainability, world peace, and respect and
care for the larger community of life.
Embracing the values in this Charter, we can grow into a family
of cultures that allows the potential of all persons to unfold
in harmony with the Earth Community. We must preserve a strong
faith in the possibilities of the human spirit and a deep sense
of belonging to the universe. Our best actions will embody the
integration of knowledge with compassion.
In order to develop and implement the principles in this Charter,
the nations of the world should adopt as a first step an international
convention that provides an integrated legal framework for existing
and future environmental and sustainable development law and policy.
- Approved by the Earth Charter Commission,
Rio de Janiero, March 18, 1997
Dr. Brendan Mackey is Senior Lecturer in the Department of
Geography and School of Resource Management and Environmental
Science at Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
He is also Co-Chair of the Ethics Working Group of the World Conservation
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